This book offers a powerful and searching meditation on the lives of the saints and the images of them painted by Renaissance artists in Italy. Robert Kiely, a distinguished scholar of modernist literature and a historian and critic of exceptional sensibility, has a keen eye and uncanny ability to capture details of significance and to prompt the reader to look again and to see with fresh eyes that the lives of saints and the Renaissance depictions of them are anything but dull, uniform, or narrowly orthodox. His beautifully written and thoughtful book treats saints seriously as human religious figures (not icons of perfection), brought to life by great Italian paintings in dialogue with scripture, legend, and poetry.
Wise, learned, and readable, and offering a rare combination of insight into religion, literature, and art, this ravishingly illustrated and vividly written volume should be by your side whenever you pick up a classic text, look at a Renaissance painting, or spend a few moments in private meditation or prayer.
Kiely's knowledge of literature and his fascination with religious images come together exquisitely in a book that will be appreciated as much for its analysis of great art as its commentary on relevant texts. The Yale University English professor emeritus deftly employs and intermingles both in a project that took root nearly two decades ago as he visited churches, monasteries, and museums during a stay in Tuscany. Kiely concentrates here on the religious art of 15th- and 16th-century Italy and a dozen or so saints he particularly likes, including his acknowledged favorite, Francis of Assisi. He incorporates as well a chapter on 19th-century English art critic John Ruskin, whose Protestant sensibilities were affected by exposure to Catholic culture in art. Kiely examines, too, how artists struggled to depict the humanity of Mary, Christ's mother, and reflects on the contrast between the worldly life of the artist Sodoma and his paintings of St. Benedict and the monastic life. Engagingly written with 130 fine reproductions, this is a book that is certain to attract a diversity of readers with interests in religion, literature, and art. (Oct.)